After losing her son in an elementary school shooting that devastates the tight-knit community of Stillwater Bay, Jennifer Crowne finds herself unable to settle back into her role of perfect stay-at-home mom and committee organizer. Meanwhile, her best friend, Mayor Charlotte Stone, struggles to keep the town together, and Charlotte’s husband, the school principal, may not be the hero everyone thinks him to be.
As they try to heal from this irrevocable trauma, Jenn and Charlotte find themselves at a crossroads—within the town and within their friendship. For Jenn, broken and grieving, there is no going back, and she demands that the school be closed so that she can bury the past. Yet Charlotte is equally desperate to hold the town together, fighting the school closure and helping the shooter’s mother regain her place in the community. Jenn and Charlotte’s relationship is put to the ultimate test as each weighs her own interests against the bonds of their friendship.
Not every author is willing or has the compassion and heart to take on the subject matter of a school shooting. Even more so, a school shooting from the viewpoint of a mother’s heart.
Steena Holmes did just that. When I picked up the book, I did so with great trepidation and an XXL box of Kleenex. Was I ready to read a story about great traumatic loss? Was I ready to watch families melt down into ash as the events of the frightful day took its toll on their lives and the lives of the town in which they lived?
Maybe I need to insert a codicil here. I am married to a retired Law Enforcement Officer. He was shot in the line of duty and survived, but we spent the rest of his years on the force, and the years after he retired working with other families who’s LEO didn’t survive. I know traumatic death. I have lived it. I have dealt with it. With this said, I knew this story could possibly bring up deep emotions and nightmares.
Within pages, I realized that this story was not a graphic novel. Ms. Holmes was not out to tell a story of blood and gore. She was sharing a story of grief and loss. A story of darkness that could pull a soul down.
The story centered around three mothers. One mother who was on a long slow slide into the darkness of loss. One mother, the pastor’s wife, who was forgiving and so focused on helping other deal with their pain, she locked hers away, even from herself. The third mother was the mother of the shooter. She too was slowly falling into the morass of dark despair. Her ostracization by members of the community with vandalism to her home added to her downward spiral.
The slow dance of sorrow was punctuated by interactions of well-meaning (and some not so well meaning) neighbors and townspeople. As within any well-written book, and as it is in real life, no man is an island. These women did not suffer alone. Their suffering was just a single layer of the many layers of pain that spread and over-lapped in the small community. Each point of pain affecting another and each point of strength drawing from those around, as they sought to reach up towards the light of hope. As the viewpoint pulled out, the reader could see that intimate story of these ladies’ sorrow was woven into the story of families, and an entire town trying to recover from this great crisis among their people.
Sniggling through the wonderful story line, much like a jagged gouge winding through the edges of the story, there is a second hidden agenda, a second story line begging for attention. But can we find the threads? Can we find the clues to unravel the mystery before it is too late and causes all the hard work towards recovery to come unglued?
Steena Holmes was masterful in her presentation of such delicate material. For material such as this is sure to wrench every mother’s heart. Her characters’ pain and despair was authentic and compelling and left this reader reaching for the box of Kleenex on more than one occasion. The attention to the small detail that only a mother in pain would notice, like the small memorial on the side of the road with some toys and toy boats, just like her son used to play with brought both the main character and me to our knees with the force of sorrow that tore at our soul.
I would give Stillwater Rising a full FIVE STARS and THREE BOXES OF KLEENEX for one of the most heart-wrenching reads I have read in a long time.
Growing up as a small town Canadian girl, there wasn’t much to do but ride your bike, hang out with friends on the beach and daydream. I always wanted to write but never dreamed it was something I could do as a career. I love to travel and fell in love with the sheep covered hillside, old castles and romantic history of Scotland and England. I dream about waking up in Tuscany and touring small town shops in the south of France with my husband, of placing my toes in the ocean and experiencing history first hand. As a mother with three daughters, I’m learning that teaching them to pursue their dreams is a lasting legacy. I love to wake up to the Rocky Mountains, will forever enjoy the taste of coffee and chocolate and can’t imagine the day when a story doesn’t unfold in my heart. Living a life with passion and pursuing dreams is a life well lived.